Why we need both words and actions to help Africa’s children

Author: Dr Assefa Bequele
Executive Director, Africa Child Policy Forum (ACPF)

We’re often told that actions speak louder than words, and it’s true we won’t change lives by simply talking about the problems. But I also think that you can’t make a real impact unless you’ve thoroughly debated and agreed what needs to be done. Words first, then actions.

I was reminded of this at the Continental Conference on Access to Justice for Children, held recently in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. More than two hundred child rights experts, politicians, lawyers and civil society activists came together to try and find a way forward for the thousands of children across Africa who are denied access to justice. It’s easy for the cynics to dismiss such conferences as talking shops – fine words and discussions, but little in the way of concrete action. And if we had simply presented and debated the issues, there could have been some truth in that

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Ghana’s Human Rights Court gives life to the right to information

michael_gyan_nyarkoAuthor: Michael Gyan Nyarko
Doctoral Candidate and Academic Tutor, Centre for Human Rights; Editor: AfricLaw.com

Ghana has been described as ‘a beacon of hope in Africa’ on account of its good governance and respect for human rights.’[1] With a fairly liberal constitution which guarantees quite an elaborate list of civil and political rights as well as socio-economic rights, political stability and economic growth over the past two decades, this description of Ghana is not farfetched.  While Ghana has performed reasonably well with regards to respect for human rights, there still remain several human rights issues that require urgent attention. One of those issues is the right to information.

The right to information is guaranteed and entrenched in the Constitution.[2] Article 21(1)(f) of the Constitutions provides that ‘all persons shall have the right to information, subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society’.  However, this right has not been effectively enjoyed as government has failed to enact a right to information law to give effect to the constitutional provision. A right to information bill proposed by successive governments has been pending for over a decades. The absence of a right to information law has left a vacuum where citizens do not have clarity on whom to approach for official government information, which information may not be requested and what financial burden they may bear for such request. This has resulted in the rather limited use of the right to information, especially with regards to request for official government documents.

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Stifling democracy – the Museveni way!

Solomon Joojo CobbinahAuthor: Solomon Joojo Cobbinah
Ghanaian Journalist and Human Rights Activist

The Uganda Police Force is perhaps the most proactive in the entire world. They actively swing into action and arrest people they suspect are hatching plans to commit a crime. However, it seems the Police largely targets politicians, who are deemed to be “threats” to President Yoweri Museveni who has been in power for 30 years.

More than a month after Uganda’s February 2016 Presidential and Parliamentary Election, opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye, flagbearer of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) continues to be under what the Police describes as “preventive arrest”. Preventive arrest is meant to stop him from leading protests against a declaration from Uganda’s Electoral Commission that President Museveni won the 2016 Presidential Election. Dr Besigye’s arrest on the Election Day restrained him from legally challenging an election he deemed fraudulent.

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The SADC Tribunal: Concerted efforts for waves of change we want to see

Patricia_MwanyisaAuthor: Patricia Mwanyisa
Human Rights, Justice and Rule of Law Programme Officer, Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)

Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe is known for its spectacular and majestic water falls. In August last year it was not just water that was falling at Victoria Falls but the SADC Tribunal as we know it fell spectacularly as leaders from the Southern African Development Community approved a new protocol to reconstitute the SADC Tribunal. The new tribunal has a limited mandate. By adopting a new protocol, the leaders effectively buried the SADC Tribunal which used to operate under the 2000 protocol. They decided to ignore recommendations from their own legal advisors and attorney generals and created a new Tribunal whose mandate is limited only to the adjudication of inter-state disputes. Simply put, under the 2014 Protocol, citizens are deprived of their right to refer a dispute between themselves and their government to the SADC Tribunal. Without a tribunal, justice and redress will remain elusive for people of the region.

It is important to remember that central to the demise of the tribunal is the case of Mike Campbell and Others v Zimbabwe (Campbell Case) in which the Tribunal found in favor of Zimbabwean white farmers whose land had been compulsorily acquired and without compensation by the Zimbabwean government. In retaliation Zimbabwe strategically attacked the jurisdiction and operation of the tribunal, mobilized support for its suspension and ultimately, its eventual disbandment. By succumbing to the demands of Zimbabwe, SADC Heads of state have ultimately eliminated the access of individuals and groups to the Tribunal at the behest of one State [Zimbabwe] and consequently depriving the entire region of the benefits of such an important institution. Discussions and decisions on the utility of the Tribunal should rather surpass the opinion of one State’s argument based on just one case and personal short term gains. Even so, Zimbabweans themselves and particularly politicians and elected MPs who represent the people of that country must objectively review the wisdom in taking such a stance – more so at a time when Zimbabwe chairs the SADC bloc. They must never forget that they too are ordinary individuals who also depend on fair, transparent and accessible judicial mechanisms which they may need at some point in their lives regardless of their political affiliations. That is, at any given time the tide turns, politicians whether in opposition or in power are susceptible to becoming victims of State sanctioned attacks on the dignity of individuals, including political violence.

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